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Top Creativity Killers

You know what it’s like. You need a novel solution, a unique design, a mind-blowing, market-changing, million dollar idea that no one has ever thought of. And every time you sit back to let your brain do its thing, the only thought that comes into your mind is…

…“What’s for lunch?”

If that’s ever happened to you, don’t sweat it. It doesn’t mean you’re not creative or that you’re obsessing about food. It just means your creative skills could have taken a whack from one of these powerful creativity killers.

Caffeine is great for staying up through the night when you need to cram for an exam, but not so good when you need to do more than recite facts from rote. A strong cup of coffee will cause the body to release adrenaline, raising blood pressure, tightening muscles and slipping some extra sugar into the bloodstream for a quick energy boost.

All of that is useful if you want to stay awake for a short time but harmful when you need to let your synapses form associations and allow the ideas to flood in.

The real trouble starts though after the caffeine wears off. Big coffee drinkers can feel tired, irritable and depressed as withdrawal sets in. All they can think of then is when they can get their next fix, and that can be pretty distracting.

You might think then that if being tired and short of coffee is bad for your creativity then being hyper and energetic would be good for it.


Although some researchers have argued that creative children may be mistaken for those with attention deficit disorders, in practice, rushing around wildly is more likely to send your mind down multiple avenues instead of focusing it on the one route likely to solve a specific problem.

Relaxing your thoughts so that you’re aware of them and can direct them is likely to bring much better results.

And that’s why multi-tasking is a major creativity killer too. If you’re listening to music, watching television or waiting for a download to finish while you’re working on a project, your mind won’t be focused. Inevitably after a few seconds, you’ll find that it drifts towards one of your other tasks, anticipating the next line in the song, looking up to see what’s happening in the show or checking to see if the download has finished yet.

When you really need to get something done — and done in an original way — it often pays to shut the door, turn off the music and listen only to what your thoughts are telling you.

One Information Stream
Before you turn everything off though, listen to what lots of people are telling you.

Creativity might be about producing things that no one else has thought of, but all creative processes start somewhere and the more input you have at the beginning, the more launching posts you’ll have later on — and the more ways of getting to where you want to go.

So even though you’re likely to have a favorite source to which you like to turn regularly for inspiration, it can pay to expand your options. And that includes looking at different fields too. Photographers can benefit from looking at trends in graphic design, programmers can follow what animators are talking about, and designers could find themselves hit with a bright new idea after seeing news about the dance world.

A creative mind needs to be an open mind too.

Sometimes a little competition can force us to focus but you can have too much of any good thing, including concentration. Although deadlines help to ensure that things get done, they don’t guarantee that what’s delivered on time is the best that can ever be delivered.

That applies to the effects of competition too.

If you’re battling to produce a widget, wonder-tool, website or whatever that’s better than someone else’s, you’re going to be spending at least half your time looking over your shoulder to see what the competition is up to. That competitor then can become the one main information source that’s holding up the creativity.

If you really want to break the mould, try assuming that you have no competitors and that your product will be the best because there’s nothing else like it.

It works for Apple.

The real trouble with being creative is that creative people are first. That means they’re in untested territory. Come up with a whole new way of putting content on the Web, of sharing photos or comparing prices and you’ll have no idea if the idea is sound or silly.

Build on someone else’s idea and they’ll have done the hard work for you. But that won’t be very creative.

[tags] creativity [/tags]


  1. Jeremy Says:

    Being a creative person and knowing many amazing creative people I would agree with most of the items in this article but one. MUSIC. Music focuses me and most of the creative people I know. Music sets a tempo for my mind. Most of my great work has come while cranking music. I believe there has even been research showing that your mind responds to certain types of music. Listening to music when I create is about the only thing I share in my creative process with just about every other creative person I know. I would also say that you are dead on about taking your influences from sources outside of your own art. This is something I often tell people. As a photographer I don't look to other photographers at all for inspiration. I don't want to become them. I want to be uniquely me.
    Great Article... Just wanted to pass that along. =)

  2. jared Says:

    i think too much creativity and ideas can also prevent things to be done since you're super excited about a lot of things.

    like me i've got loads of things to do i dont know where to start, although i can accomplish them one by one if i'm not spending my time stumbling (^_^)

    procrastination brings me down

  3. Ashli Says:

    I'm another photographer in favor of music while I shoot, and especially while I Photoshop. I'm also a writer, so if I'm doing anything that involves words I have to listen to music without lyrics.

    Procrastination is one of the biggest problems for most artists I know. I've recently started leaving chalk around my apartment and drawing on the walls to get into the habit of making art the very second the idea hits me. A side effect of this that I didn't think of is that I'm constantly surrounded by ever-changing inspiration from my own work! Another side effect is how often I have to vacuum.

  4. shanghaiwu Says:

    Music takes me away on the wing of a bird whilst I create/fusionartphotograpy

  5. UtahLuxury.com Says:

    Red Bull isnt good for creativity either. I will usually read a book or do something that can take my mind off of the matter and then it will come to me.

  6. Bill Says:

    If caffeine is bad for you, you will know it and should avoid it. But for many, if not indeed most, people it's a concentration aid that can help lead you into the flow of creativity, and most artists and writers I know use it joyfully, as I do. I agree with most of the rest, with a reservation about the music. In general, multi-tasking is bad, but listening to _the right kind_ of music does not require multitasking. Avoid vocals if you're writing, though. I can listen to anything when drawing or painting though, and soundtracks often help me with writing.

  7. Grey Says:

    Like most of the comments above, I too am a fan of music when I'm working on something -- I'm an all around artist; I don't just stick to one thing. Music helps me to focus my creativity into one avenue. It helps me drown out the rest of the world so that I can focus on my art, which is something that I just can't get anywhere else -- not even in a quiet room.

    I think that this list is great for a specific group of creative people, but not so great for the others.

  8. James Says:

    I'm a writer, both of creative and nonfiction works. I disagree with just about all of these except for multi-tasking, which is the biggest evil known to a desktop. Still, great theories.

  9. Joe Says:

    An additional killer is the naysayer - Don't waste your time running your ideas by people who aren't themselves creative, as their "perspective" is worthless. They strive only for mediocrity, and usually can't even achieve that!

  10. Damien Says:

    @James, you're a writer, but are you a successful writer? I'm a writer of creative and nonfiction works except my writing never leaves my computer and probably isn't all that great.

  11. J Says:

    Obviously there are different types of creativity, but from my point of view on creativity I agree every single one of these points. I make music myself and I also study engineering, which despite popular believe also requires creative out of the box thinking. I recently quit caffeine and I've noticed a big improvement in my creativity, particularly in music. I just became calmer, less on edge and that allowed the creativity to naturally flow instead of being forced out and I just found that transferred to a better musical output and better ideas. In the end it's all speculative so I'm only giving my opinion, since creativity itself is very subjective and is impossible to accurately measure. I'm sort of going off feeling.

    One thing I couldn't help but notice, how the others said actively listening to music makes them more creative? I find the opposite haha. The second I turn music on 100% of my attention goes to that and I literally can't do anything else but listen. I get into my 'music mindset' and start trying to reverse engineer everything (what instruments are being used, mixing techniques, what effects are applied and where, what was the artists mindset while creating etc) all in my head, and it's very taxing haha. Perhaps that's just the mindset of a musician though!

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